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Personal Space

Physical space is an important component of nonverbal communication. Anthropologist Edward Hall (1966) analyzed the physical distance between people speaking to each other and found that the amount of personal space that people prefer varies from one culture to another . Personal space is the immediate area surrounding a person that the person claims as private. Our personal space is contained within an invisible boundary surrounding our body. much like a snatls'sbell, When others invade our space. we may retreat. stand our ground. or even lash out. depending Oilour cultural background (Samovar and Porter. 1991a). Age.gender. kind of relationship. and social classare important factors in the allocation of personal space. Power differentials between people (including adults and children. men and women. and dominant-group members and people of color) are reflected in personal space and privacy issues. With regard to age. adults generally do not hesitate to enter the personal space of a child (Thorne, Kramaraeand Henley. 1983). Similarly. young children who invade the personal space of an adult tend to elicit a more favorable response than do older uninvited visitors (Dean. Willis. and la Rocco. 1976). The need (or personal space appears to increase with age (Baxter. 1970; Aiello and Jones. 1971). although it may begin to decrease at about age forty (Heshka and Nelson. 1972). For some people. the idea of privacy or personal space is an unheard-of luxury afforded only to those in the middle and upper classes. As we have seen in this chapter. homeless bag ladies may have as their only personal space the bags they carry or the shopping carts they push down the streets. Some of the homeless may try to "stake a claim" 011 a heat grate or the same bed in a shelter for more than one night. but such claims have dubious authenticity in a society in which the homeless are assumed to own nothing and to have no right to lay claim to anything in the public domain.

In sum, all forms of nonverbal communication are influenced by gender. race, social class; and the personal contexts in which they occur. Although it is difficult to generalize about people's nonverbal behavior, we still need to think about our own nonverbal communication patterns. Recognizing that differences in social interaction exist is important. We should be wary of making value judgments-the .differences are simply differences. Learning to understand and respect alternative styles of social interaction enhances our
personal effectiveness by increasing the range of options we have for communicating with different people in diverse contexts and for varied reasons (Wood. 1999). (The Concept Quick Review summarizes the micro level approach to social interaction.)

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